Durango, you are full of intriguing folks. One such someone is Julia Hastings-Black, chef, teacher, writer, and all-around striking woman. We met Hastings-Black at the Animas Chocolate Company to discuss her road to Durango and her recent publications, “ReMixology: Classic Cocktails, Reconsidered and Reinvented” and “Cocktails at Dinner: Daring Pairings of Delicious Dishes and Enticing Mixed Drinks.” At a cozy, window-situated table, the spiced cocoa and conversation flowed.
What is one of your favorite pairings in “Cocktails at Dinner?”I really like the Corpse Reviver #2.1. It is paired with grilled lamb skewers with garlic mint yogurt and tomato marmalade. I like that one a lot. It is super tasty. It’s from Café Maude in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
What about a favorite cocktail creation from “ReMixology?”There is a tasty variation of a margarita. It is a mix between a margarita and a mojito with a lot of mint. It is called the Old Cuban. It’s from Pegu Club in New York. It has champagne in it, so there’s a little bit of fizz. It’s a good summer drink.”
How long have you been cooking?I have been cooking since I was a child. My mom’s family is French and there’s a long tradition of cooking, running hotels and bed and breakfasts, and also writing about food. When I was a kid, I didn’t think necessarily that I would pursue food as a profession. It was more a part of family life and kind of a hobby. At age 18, I had my first restaurant job and I was hooked. My senior year of high school, all the seniors did a month-long internship. Mine was at a restaurant called Restaurant Nora, owned by Nora Pouillon. It is the U.S.’ first certified organic restaurant. Pouillon was on the vanguard of the farm-to table-movement … Even though I had grown up cooking and eating very well, I was blown away by how fresh all the ingredients were. It was life-changing … When all of my friends went off to college, I decided I would keep cooking. It began with moving to Vermont and working on an organic farm.
How did working with food turn into writing about food?The story begins with how I met my co-author, Michael Turback … He had written a bunch of books, and one of them, the one that really caught my attention, was the “Ithaca Farmers Market Cookbook.” I loved how he combined storytelling, biography, photography, and recipes. For me, much of the excitement of food and cooking is the people behind it. Food is a great way to get to know somebody and where they came from. I was between jobs and a friend of mine was like, “Have you ever met Michael Turback?” and I said, “No, I haven’t,” and she arranged an introduction for us. She knew that sometimes he hired research assistants. We met for coffee and Michael told me about his different writing projects. “ReMixology” and “Cocktails at Dinner” were both his ideas and he said, “Well, what do you think? Do these books sound interesting? Would you like to work with me on them?” and I was like “Absolutely, sign me up. When do I start?” and he said he had to think about it and said he would call me. So several days later, he called me back and said, “I don’t want to hire you.” And my heart kind of sank. But then he said, “But I want you to be my co-author.”
What dream cooking course would you love to teach in Durango?I have a vision for a class about cooking without recipes. It would need to be a series. The way I envision it is through food concepts or subjects, like soup. A lot of soups start in the same way. It would be learning that formula when building a soup and how to play with what ingredients to include. Or like a frittata or a quiche. There is a technique for making both, but the ingredients that you can put in each are endless.
What do you love about cooking?In many ways, because cooking is very routine, you can have conversations about all kinds of things while you are working. It’s different than something like writing where you really have to be focused on your research or your writing. You can’t really interact with people when that is going on. But cooking can be a social activity. And that’s how it was in my mom’s kitchen and my grandmother’s kitchen. Everyone gravitated there. It’s where people were and where conversation took place. I love those social dimensions. My greatest enjoyment though is the craft of cooking – taking raw materials and turning them into something useful. Having the skill to nourish bodies and please taste buds is satisfying to my soul.
How does that love of cooking connect back to your books?I think that for both Michael and I, cocktail culture is certainly not about getting drunk or drowning your miseries. It’s about bringing people together. I think that we both have experienced, on the consumer side and on the maker side, how food and drink can bring people together. I think that is what we tried to capture. That sense of conversation, friendship, and bonding over food and drink.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer